Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959): Portraits of Deirdre

               Self Portrait with Beard

                                       (Self Portrait)

Jacob Epstein was an American-born sculptor who worked chiefly in England.Epstein pioneered modern sculpture and often produced controversial works that challenged taboos concerning what public artworks appropriately depict….

Revolting against ornate, pretty art, he made bold, often harsh and massive forms of bronze or stone. His sculpture is distinguished by its vigorous rough-hewn realism. Brilliantly avant garde in concept and style, his works often shocked the general public. He often used expressively distorted figures, drawing more on non-Western art than the classical ideal.

The caricature of Epstein as iconoclast, wreaking havoc on traditional art, scarcely fits his own explanation of his work. Repeatedly, he asserted his enormous respect for tradition. Only, his definition of tradition departed from the norm, in that he rejected the development of European art since the Renaissance… Epstein believed in universal aesthetic values, consistent across time and space. In the early twenty-first century, when many people are acutely aware of cultural differences, his panoramic vision seems curiously ahistorical. Yet his monolithic concept of an international tradition is more appealing than the other monoliths – imperialism, aggressive nationalism, communism, fascism – that sent waves of destruction across the world during his life.

After his death, the sculptor Henry Moore paid tribute to Epstein’s courage as a pioneering artist who bore the brunt of critical derision. His repeated exposure to controversy made it far easier for other sculptors, such as Moore, to follow in his wake. 


The First Portrait of Deirdre (With Arms)

The First Portrait of Deirdre (With Arms), 1941. Cast bronze. The Bolton Museum, 1963.P.42. © Bolton Council.

Second Portrait of Deirdre (in a Slip), 1941. Bronze with golden patina, 55 X 21.5 in (139.7 X 54.61 cm). Private collection. Photograph: Mutual Art.

Third Portrait of Deirdre (leaning forward), 1942. Bronze with green patina, 16 in. (40.7 cm.) high. Private collection. Photograph: Christie’s Auction House.